WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — A developer’s plan to build a $50 million “creative office campus” in West Humboldt Park is moving forward, but some neighbors say they’re worried about the massive project.
The developer, IBT Group LLC, is looking to convert the cluster of old warehouses at 1334 N. Kostner Ave. into a “creative office campus” for tech companies or other companies with a creative focus.
The warehouses were the longtime home of lighting and electrical equipment manufacturer Pyle-National Co. IBT recently bought the 6.5-acre site for $8.25 million.
Some residents, including members of the community group Nobel Neighbors, say the developer hasn’t solicited enough community feedback for such an ambitious project, which could drastically change property values in the neighborhood.
“It’s one of the most aggressive developments to come to our area, and to have no say is really problematic to us an organization, but also to longtime residents who could be displaced by speculators,” said William Smiljanich, member of Nobel Neighbors.
The project, called “Humboldt Lit,” calls for a full interior and exterior renovation of the existing buildings. The developer also plans to carve out a half-acre of green space for a courtyard for neighbors to use.
“When you look at Fulton Market, the rents have gotten prohibitive for younger tech companies. We wanted to find and create an environment for them that would be more authentic,” developer Gary Pachucki told Block Club in August of 2019.
That was the plan as of last summer. It’s unclear if the project has changed since then — especially as many tech companies have switched to working from home until at least 2021 due to COVID-19. Pachucki didn’t respond to a request for comment last week and deferred questions to Lynda Murphy of the marketing firm Mauge, Inc.
Murphy said she couldn’t provide any information beyond the sale published in REJournals July 21, saying IBT would share more information after a construction timeline was finalized.
Last week, IBT Group held a meeting with Nobel Neighbors and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) to discuss next steps. The neighborhood group wants the developer to sign a community benefits agreement, which would require the developer to hire locally, market toward Black and Brown entrepreneurs and hold a job fair in the neighborhood.
The developer has yet to agree to the terms but is keeping the line of communication open. More meetings with residents are planned for the coming weeks, according to Mitts’ office.
Despite the promise of more meetings, some neighbors said they feel like they’re being shut out of the process, which was opaque to begin with.
“It seems like outsiders are going to come in and set up shop. … I did not hear a lot about how it was going to benefit the community,” longtime West Humboldt Park resident Antwan McHenry said.
McHenry, also a member of Nobel Neighbors, said he supports development coming to West Humboldt Park, which has long suffered from neglect. He said he wants to make sure the community gets a say in what gets built.
McHenry said the majority of his neighbors, many of them longtime residents of West Humboldt Park, also didn’t know anything about the development when he approached them about it, which says something about the developer’s outreach.
“I feel like they knew they didn’t really need community input, and to advertise it, so they didn’t do it,” he said.
The project does not require a zoning change and therefore does not need the approval of Mitts or the neighborhood group to move forward. Mitts said she supports the project.
“This aging, yet historically-significant property was ripe for renovation: it is massive, currently under-utilized, blighted and mostly vacant,” the alderman said in a statement.
“Further, as is the case in many of our stable, yet often resource-challenged neighborhoods, innovative approaches like the proposed Humboldt Lit Tech and Business Incubator are the best way to turn these buildings around.”
The buildings, which date back to the turn of the century, were home to Pyle-National for decades.
The lighting company moved into the buildings in 1916, where it manufactured headlights and other lighting and electrical equipment for railroad use, as well as exterior lighting for prominent buildings like the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, Soldier Field and the Rose Bowl Stadium.
It’s unclear exactly when Pyle-National moved out of the buildings, but it was likely sometime in the 1960s, according to Grace Rappe of RATIO Architects, the architecture firm tapped to design the “Humboldt Lit” project. When IBT Group took over, a used furniture business was operating out of the buildings.
Like Pyle-National, McHenry has a long history in the neighborhood. He’s lived a block from the old lighting warehouses for more than 30 years. He said many of his neighbors also have deep ties to the neighborhood.
A project like this, he said, could usher in gentrification.
“A lot of residents over here, they’re taxpayers, they’re invested in the community. We can’t just get up and leave. My family owns multiple pieces of property in the neighborhood,” he said.
“When you’re bringing in developments like that, there should be some benefits, whether that be a community space so neighbors can have meetings, jobs for the community. I don’t see any of that.”
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